Breakdown: The Path  Less Traveled

Breakdown The Path Less Traveled

May 30, 2013 10:30am
I remember when I was a kid just learning this sport of motocross. My dad being a former pro racer, he always stressed many things crucial to succeeding. Good starts, carrying speed into the turns, physical fitness and most of all, line selection. Choosing the right lines doesn't cost money. Mitch Payton doesn't build lines you can't buy and there is no cutting edge technology to separate privateer lines from factory lines. Picking the right line is all in the mind. I usually attribute this skill to years of experience and general creativity, but not all riders are good at it.

If you watch 40 riders in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, an overwhelming majority will follow each other into the main, obvious line. Most times that makes sense, because the track will flow toward the inside line. As the moto wears on, it almost becomes like a herd of cattle. The riders are starting to get tired and as oxygen becomes scarce and thought processes start to slow, it only intensifies this "follow the leader" mentality. As fate would have it, this is the exact time that clear thinking and being able to figure out an alternative line would be the most beneficial. That main line has become a complete disaster after 30 minutes of abuse while the edges of the track are still relatively fresh. This is where Ryan Villopoto has impressed me thus far in 2013.

Villopoto's (#2) line choice at Thunder Valley helped him take command of the race.
Simon Cudby photo

In the early parts of the moto, RV seems content to ride the main line, albeit faster than most are able to. He doesn't move around the track too much, sticking to the main lines and feeling the race out. At seemingly random moments in the moto, everything changes. In what reminds me of a scene from Rocky 4, it's as if Aldon screams at him in Russian and cues him to turn up the tempo. At Thunder Valley and especially Hangtown, when he decided to make his move, it was essentially the end of the game for everyone else. He instantly changed his lines and in effect, his approach to the track. He cuts across the established lines and is missing many of the bumps and ruts that the rest of the cattle are flailing through. His momentum picks up as he is carving new lines into the course and making his own path.

Finding new lines and avoiding bumps is not an innovation in motocross. Everyone on the track is trying to miss the rough sections and figure out new ways to pick up speed. Being able to enact this method mid-moto when the pace is already at a fever pitch is something to note, however. At Hangtown, when he put this plan into action, he dropped his lap times by an incredible three seconds in the second moto. While three seconds may not sound like a lot, everyone is already flirting with cardiac arrest to sustain the current pace. To think that he has that much pace left in the tank, I would be very nervous about the remaining 20 motos.

The question I wonder is this: Is he waiting or is this just something he learns and employs as the moto wears on? If he is indeed waiting, that is a scary proposition for the rest of the field. To think he can turn it up at will and drop the field could make for a very frustrating summer for 39 other guys. On the other hand, if he is learning where the lines are and then figures out his own method, is that more or less impressive? To be that self aware during a race is difficult, as most are using all cognitive function to ride a motorcycle at a world class pace. As the summer plays out, I will be watching his race-craft and dissecting his decisions. From what I have seen, we are witnesses to a new level of outdoor motocross. While he has a long way to go to pass Ricky Carmichael’s almost unattainable records, I do feel that RV has raised the bar for speed limits.

Will the streak continue this weekend?
Simon Cudby photo

As bikes are continuously improving and previous barriers are broken down, the evolution of pace will also continue. It always will. RV is in his prime right now. He will never be stronger or more physically capable in life than he is at this moment. When I watch him ride, he is the McGrath of '96 supercross, the RC of 2002 and 2004 motocross, the Bubba of 2008 motocross. He is doing everything right and seems to be on a different level than everyone else. Although Dungey may have an argument here, if he doesn't put a stop to the Villopoto train soon, this streak may get out of hand quickly. With every moto win, RV's confidence grows and Dungey's will wain. This Saturday is another chance for RV to exude his power and another chance for Dungey to turn this ship around. Throw in an improving James Stewart and a maturing Justin Barcia and Trey Canard and hopefully we will see more battling and less of the runaway train scenario.

Muddy Creek should be a neutral site for everyone, an equalizer for the field. No one can claim home field advantage or really have any predetermined notions of how it will go. Can RV figure out the path less traveled and drop the hammer on everyone again?  We will see in 48 hours.